A North Carolina-based nursery corporation is set to pay $12,500, as well as provide other relief, to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding religious discrimination.
Cottie Strawberry Nursery, Inc., the company in question, has been in the business of growing and distributing fruits and vegetables for over 50 years. The EEOC charged that federal law was violated when Cottle Strawberry refused to accommodate, and later fired, an employee due to her religious beliefs.
The EEOC’s complaint sites that Helen Perez, a Seventh-day Adventist, observes the Biblical Sabbath which, per her faith, spans from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Perez was a seasonal employee from 2016 to 2018 and was never required to work on Saturdays until management allegedly informed employees in 2018 that they would have to work 7 days per week. When Perez notified Cottie Strawberry that she could not work Saturdays for religious reasons, she was allegedly fired.
Alleged conduct such as this violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ sincerely-held religious beliefs. A pre-litigation settlement was attempted but the case still ended up in court.
Improving Company Culture
Cases like this one serve as important reminders to employers that even the most positive company culture may be acting in discriminatory ways towards employees.
Companies can avoid similar lawsuits by familiarizing themselves with the laws established to prevent religious discrimination. By creating good hiring practices in service to those laws, as well as establishing policies against religious discrimination and harassment and ensuring all employees, especially managers, are trained in those policies, companies can prevent facing the legal, financial, and reputation-based hardships associated with similar lawsuits.
As acting regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office said, “No employee should be forced to choose between her faith and her job.”
Reminder for Employers
Companies are responsible for managing the conflicts that may arise between employees’ religious beliefs and the needs of the company. By providing reasonable accommodations and working collaboratively with their employees, companies can avoid violating federal law and dealing with the costly consequences.
While Cottie Strawberry was ordered to pay $12,500 to settle the suit, they will also develop a policy on religious accommodations for employees, will conduct annual training for all employees regarding religious discrimination in the workplace, and they will post a public notice regarding the suit as well as report to the EEOC periodically on their progress.
Religious Discrimination Victims
If you are experiencing religious discrimination in the workplace, or aren’t sure if your employer’s treatment qualifies as discrimination, we’re here for you. We understand this is a difficult time where you may feel forced to choose between your faith and your livelihood. We have some tips that may be able to help through this. Take a look at our strategies for handling workplace discrimination.